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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


James Michener's Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections: More Autographs & Stories Behind the Signatures. Juanito Quintana and Kenneth Vanderford, Picnics in Roncesvalles

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Professor Kenneth Vanderford (center, autograph on page 495), Juanito Quintana (Montoya, the hotel owner, in The Sun Also Rises, autograph on photograph) and Conde de la Corte, a famous bull breeder, Plaza de Toros, Pamplona.  Iberia photograph by Robert Vavra.  Quintana signed "Para mi gran amigo Gerry Dawes con un fuerte abrazo, Juanito."

Juanito Quintana (Montoya, the hotel owner, in The Sun Also Rises, Bar Txoko, Plaza del Castillo, Pamplona, sanfermines, July 7, 1970.  Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2020.
Juanito Quintana (Montoya, the hotel owner, in The Sun Also Rises), and Matador John Fulton, Plaza de Toros, Pamplona, sanfermines, July 7, 1970.  Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2020.
 John Fulton & Juanito Quitana strolling and chatting in the Plaza del Castillo, Pamplona, 1970s.
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2020.

Kenneth Vanderford, "Hemingway's Double," at a picnic in Roncesvalles, early 1970s.
 Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2020. 
Excerpt below from Homage to Iberia (a work-in-progress), the authorized sequel to James Michener's Iberia and for which Michener wrote the foreword before his passing.
Hemingway's Burguete & Mythical Feasts in the Mists of the Historical Pass of Roncesvalles in Navarra 
"Always, during those years, about halfway through the fiesta, about the time everyone needed a break from the noise and jaleo of San Fermín, we formed a caravan of cars and headed back up into these same hills to the pass of Roncesvalles, just north of Burguete, where we had picnics that became legendary.  A couple of kilometers above the monastery of Ronscesvalles, along the road to France, I knew a splendid Brigadoon-like glade with an icy little stream that only the initiated can find. My friend John Fulton, the American Matador-and-artist, who had gone there with James Michener, who described it his Iberia:  Spanish Travels and Reflections,  and had introduced me to it during my first time at the Fiestas de San Fermín in 1970. 
 Matador John Fulton, who was prominently featured in several chapters in James Michener's Iberia, and Gerry Dawes in the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, early 1970s.  Photo by the great Jim Hollander.  
In Iberia, Michener wrote about this very glade:  "I had spotted it on my pilgrimage to Santiago.  We were eight as we left Pamplona after the morning running of the bulls:  Patter (Ashcraft) and her husband; Bob Daley, long-time European sportswriter for The New York Times and his French wife, both with a sense of what makes a good picnic; Vavra ((Robert Vavra, photographer of Iberia) and Fulton; the Hemingway double (Kenneth Vanderford) and I.   We were headed north, toward the pass of Roncesvalles, that historic and mystery-laden route through the Pyrenees which Charlemagne had used in 778 for his retreat throught the mists and where he had failed to hear the battle horn of his dying Roland. . .and there in a glade so quiet, so softly green that it seemed as if defeated knights might have slept in it the evening before, we spread our blankets and prepared the meal."
With an odd collection of companions, each year we made the pilgrimage to this historic little valley in the pass that is haunted by the ghost of brave Roland and by the spirits of generations of pilgrims who passed this way over the centuries walking the Chemin de Saint Jacques, the great Camino de Santiago, a trek across northern Spain that from this point at Roncesvalles to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where Saint James’s bones are said to reside, is over 600 miles. 

Sometime around July 10, Diana and I would round up a crazy band of picnickers that included the thin, but sassy, seventy-something Alicia Hall, the doyenne of foreign bullfight aficionados; Kenneth Vanderford, Ernest Hemingway's "double," a curmudgeonly university professor with long-billed ball cap, a white beard, and portly girth; and Lindsay Daen, an internationally known New Zealand sculptor.  The goateed Daen lived in Puerto Rico and Madrid, wore bush jackets and a strange looking glass device around his neck, drove a red Kharmann Ghia and showed up each year at the Bar Txoko in Pamplona with a new lady (or ladies), usually a young, impressionable art student.  

Invariably Lindsay met these young women on his scouting forays into the Prado Museum in Madrid and just as invariably, when he showed up with one of them, we would slyly ask him, "Where did you meet Sally or Bev or Ronnie?"  I referred to these women as Lindsay's "recent acquisitions from the Prado."  One year, he arrived with a pretty young lady and claimed that he had met her when he saved her from a piece of cornice stone falling from a building in Madrid.
“Shocking that they have allowed the Prado to fall in such dis-repair!” was my comeback. 
(Photo: Gerry Dawes at San Fermín 1971.)
In subsequent years, word of our band of Roncesvalles merry merienda makers got around and we were joined by an eclectic crew of adventurers and of the women of several nationalities who came to San Fermín with them each year.  Some of these regulars had been coming without fail for decades to the fiestas.  Many of them could best be described as the spiritual descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s Jake Barnes and other members of the Lost Generation.
Arriving at the hard to find spot on the eastern side of the steep road that climbed up to a pilgrim's sanctuary at the top of the pass, we unloaded the luncheon bounty from our cars.  The men helped Alicia down the steep, grassy slope to the green, mossy banks of the stream, where Diana, who had recruited some of the women to collect the food at the Pamplona mercado municipal that morning, laid out our splendid repast: Anchoas, salty anchovies cured in oil; roasted red pimientos; streaky pink slices of jamón;  garlicky red-orange chorizo; white Parmesan-like Roncal from the Pyrenees east of Roncesvalles and smoky Idiazábal ewes’ milk cheeses from a town south of San Sebastián; aceitunas, olives cured with rosemary, thyme and garlic; crusty, country bread; and fruits—blushing ripe peaches, big black picota cherries, and honeydew melons.  I put a dozen bottles of Las Campanas Navarra rosados (the same wines Hemingway carried in his car around Spain with him) and claretes (rosés and lighter red wines) and melons in the cold rushing little rivulet to cool, then dispatched a detail of volunteers for dry firewood to build a little fire.
The country food of Navarra is delicious, even more so in the mountain air, the wine flowed freelyand laughter came easily. Every now and then someone would step away from the group and stare out across the splendid green woods and watch the rivulet run down the valley.  They knew that back in the  frantic hustle of modern city life, these hours spent in the Garden  of Eden would ripen with age and retelling. 

 Birney Adams and George Semler at one of our meriendas in the magical glade of Roncesvalles, 1971.

Until some newcomers not present during the early years of these outings, decided one year by popular decree that the should move the show down out of the historical mists to an easier-to-get-to spot, thus destroying the magic, our picnic had a formula that didn't vary from the first year until the year we stopped having our picnics,   : Drink some wine, eat wonderful Navarrese food, drink some more wine, get mellow, lay down on the mossy slopes and tell jokes to a well-primed audience until the mystical fog drifts in, as it often does by mid-afternoon. The joke session began that first year, when Hemingway’s double Kenneth Vanderford, a man then in his sixties, who was sitting in a folding chair he carried in his car, began to hold court with the group sitting on the ground around him.  While stroking the arm of a attractive, flaxen-haired young model, who had worked for a Senator from California (and, with whom, I had had a mercifully short liason), Vanderford had drifted quite naturally onto the subject of sex and how, in our society, it was not easily accessible to men of his age.
“The only thing available to men like me,” he said, “is loneliness and masturbation.  In this society, sex seems to be forbidden to the very old and very young. ”
“That's not the case in all societies” the sculptor Lindsay Daen, himself obviously no stranger to the randy arts, said.  Then he told a tale of how he had once watched a five-year old girl openly masturbate on the veranda of a house in Polynesia, while he and her parents were carrying on a conversation.
“Her parents didn’t seem to find anything wrong with what she was doing,” Lindsay said, “and when I thought about it, I didn’t either.”
“Well,” I chimed in, “there’s plenty I find wrong with it.”
“Like what?” Daen asked.
“The kid could go blind, get pimples, and, if she continues masturbating, she will undoubtedly go crazy.  Look what it’s done to you and Vanderford.”
Any serious drift the conversation may have had disintegrated with the peals of laughter, then the jokes started.  After a few risque jokes in English got the group warmed up, a Swede had us rolling on the ground in fits by telling a particularly dirty joke in Swedish, which only the three other Swedes at the picnic, including my friend Birney Adam's wife Lotta understood.  No interpretation was necessary.  It didn’t matter, the food, the wine, the camaraderie, and the reverie of the country afternoon made these picnics the stuff of vintage nostalgia. 
The most incredible thing that ever happened during the five years we gathered for these picnics, was the near conversion of the Hemingway look-a-like, Kenneth Vanderford, a died-in-the-wool atheist and a friend of Madeleine Murray O’Hair, America’s most vociferous non-believer.

Kenneth Vanderford, "Hemingway's Double," at a picnic in Roncesvalles.
One year, early in the proceedings, a mist of metaphysical caliber had drifted into the upper tier of our little hidden valley.  Things were getting spooky and we were worried about Lindsay Daen, who had still not arrived.  We had already had some food and wine, when I coaxed Vanderford, a history professor, into telling us about the legend of Roland blowing his horn to summon his uncle Charlemagne's army as he fought for his life in this pass.  Vanderford ended his tale of the famous Chanson de Roland and remarked that, like lots of other religion-based legends, the popular accounts of the retreat of Roland and his death were mostly nonsense.  At that precise moment, several notes that sounded like a bugle call from Roland himself came from high in the woods.  Vanderford looked heavenward and seemed momentarily shaken by what he must have thought was a call to reckoning.  It was Lindsay blowing his bugle as he tried to locate us.  We never let Kenneth Vanderford live that day down. 

 Lindsay Daen blowing his bugle in Roncesvalles.
If it were not for the bullfights, for which most of us had tickets, we would have passed the whole afternoon here, immersed in the camaraderie we shared and in the reverie of this magical place.  Reluctantly, for the fight was to begin at six and Pamplona was at least an hour away, we packed up and wound our way back down the curvy mountain roads to the fiesta with another tale to add to the legends of the pass of Roncesvalles. 

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 About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes is the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on WPWL 103.7 FM Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York.

  Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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